$3m grant boosts Maine’s offshore windmill project
ORONO, Maine - A $3 million federal grant to University of Maine will be used to complete another piece of the puzzle of building windmills to harness the bountiful winds off Maine’s coast to produce energy.
Habib Dagher of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center said the center will use the money for a station where prototype blades and towers will be made from experimental materials to withstand offshore stresses.
“This is a cornerstone function of the lab,’’ Dagher said.
He said a large robot that can weld, paint, and perform other mechanical work will be used in building windmill parts. Shaped like a large inverted U, the robot will travel up and down a 200-foot track to apply composite fabrics to the parts.
The center was expanded to include the Offshore Wind Laboratory. The lab formally opens in November to advance the work of designing, building, and testing deep-water, wind-generating technology, in which the center has attained a national leadership role.
The center has six components in various stages of completion. They include a 12-foot-deep pool where wind and wave action is replicated and a section where blades are subjected to the kinds of wear and tear found offshore.
The Economic Development Administration grant will help create the center’s “robotics manufacturing cell.’’ Dagher said the cell will help bring all of the design, engineering, manufacturing, and testing functions to a single place, increasing efficiency and saving money.
Researchers will use the strongest, most weather-resistant composite materials that can be created so floating windmills with 200-foot-blades can withstand salt air, stiff winds, and the motion of the sea. The towers that support the windmills will be in the 300-foot range, much taller than their land-based cousins. Full-size turbines, once built, will be about the size of the Washington Monument.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited the center last month and promised to move swiftly to identify wind energy zones where permanent structures would be located. A UMaine-led consortium of businesses, universities, nonprofits, and utilities plans to deploy its first offshore prototype next year.
Salazar said Maine “isn’t playing around for second place’’ in developing wind power. The consortium’s goal is to generate 5 gigawatts of power by 2030 from turbines 20 to 50 miles offshore.